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White House infrastructure coordinator highlights I-81 replacement as a key priority

Multiple cars sit in a parking lot under a bridge.
Scott Willis
/
WAER.org
Cars park in an adjacent lot to the I-81/I-690 Interchange on Oct. 17, 2022.

The Biden administration’s infrastructure coordinator is closely watching how the pieces come together for the I-81 replacement project in Syracuse. 

Mitch Landrieu stopped in Syracuse Monday to emphasize the Biden administration's commitment to the $2.25 billion I-81 project through the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure act.

Landrieu previously served for two terms as the Mayor of New Orleans. Before that, he was lieutenant governor when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. He also spent several years in the Louisiana State House. Now acting as Biden's senior advisor and infrastructure coordinator, Landrieu is applying his previous experience to ensure the I-81 project goes smoothly.
He recently told a table of local, state and federal officials that he’s working closely with president Biden’s cabinet secretaries on the I-81 project and others across the nation.

"I've hosted 15 cabinet meetings with them to break down the silos between and amongst all the cabinet secretaries so that they're all talking to each other about how to get this money down to the ground," Landrieu said. "Then I've talked to every governor in the country, and I've asked each of them to appoint an infrastructure coordinator to help do the same thing at the state level. And I'm asking all the mayors to do the same thing so when we set the table, there's federal, state, and local cooperation, and communication, coordination all the time so we don't have to start off at ground zero when we start getting money to the ground."

From what he’s seen, Landrieu said Syracuse-area stakeholders are on the right track. He said he’s impressed with everyone’s efforts to spread the word about jobs generated by the project. The neighborhoods near the viaduct were most impacted by the project when it was built, and will once again be disrupted when it comes down to create a community grid.

"I would encourage you very strongly and very strongly to become the model for the county," Landrieu said. "Let Syracuse be the city that shows America how diversity is our greatest strength, it's our superpower. How you've actually figured out exactly how to do workforce development and training. How you have really figured out, in a very elegant way, how to do local hiring."

Landrieu feels very connected to Syracuse’s old 15th ward, the majority African American neighborhood decimated by the building of the I-81 viaduct. He said he grew up in the Tremé section of New Orleans, one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the country. His parents still live in the same house.

81 mitch and sharon.jpg
Scott Willis
/
WAER.org
Mitch Landrieu listens to Deputy Syracuse Mayor Sharon Owens as Sen. Rachel May looks on Oct. 17, 2022. Behind Owens is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who invited Landrieu to Syracuse.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.